Riders of the Purple Sage Opera

More from this show

“Riders of the Purple Sage” is an opera being performed by Arizona Opera, and is based on the Zane Grey book of the same name. It also features backgrounds by world-renowned Arizona artist Ed Mell. Craig Bohmler, the composer for the opera, and Fenlon Lamb, the stage director, will tell us more about this Arizona production.

TED SIMONS: "RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE" IS A ZANE GREY NOVEL THAT ARIZONA OPERA HAS TRANSFORMED INTO A WESTERN-STYLE OPERATIC PERFORMANCE. RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE IS ALSO NOTED AS ARIZONA OPERA'S 1ST-EVER WORLD PREMIERE PRODUCTION. CRAIG BOHMLER IS THE COMPOSER OF RIDERS ON THE PURPLE SAGE, HE IS JOINING US NOW, AS IS FENLON LAMB IS THE OPERA'S STAGE MANAGER. GOOD TO HAVE YOU BOTH HERE. THANKS FOR JOINING US. WORLD PREMIER OF AN OPERA, THAT'S BIG STUFF.

CRAIG BOHMLER: YES, IT IS. IT'S ARIZONA'S FIRST WORLD PREMIER IN THEIR 45 YEAR HISTORY.

TED SIMONS: DID THAT SURPRISE YOU?

CRAIG BOHMLER: IT SURPRISED ME HOW IT CAME TOGETHER. I WROTE THE OPERA ON THE SAME NAME WRITTEN HERE IN THE STATE. WHEN I STARTED TO WRITE IT, THEY CAME TO KNOW OF IT AND IT'S BEEN A COLLABORATION SINCE, 2012.

TED SIMONS: DID YOU READ THE BOOK FIRST? HOW DID IT WORK?

CRAIG BOHMLER: I WENT TO PASON ON A HIKE AND WAS THWARTED BY A STORM AT THE ZANE MUSEUM. I WENT TO THE MUSEUM. HE HAD WRITTEN WESTERNS I HAD SEEN AS A CHILD SO I WENT HOME AND READ HIS NOVEL. I KNEW IT WAS AN OPERA FROM THE MOMENT I STARTED READING IT.

TED SIMONS: ISN'T THAT AMAZING? YOU CAN'T ASK HOW ALBUQUERQUE OR CHICAGO DID IT. TALK ABOUT THE CHALLENGES.

FENLON LAMB: THE CHALLENGE WAS MORE FUN THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE. YOU HAVE A LOT OF OPERAS THAT HAVE BEEN DONE. YOU GET TO LOOK AT PEOPLE WHO HAVE DONE THOSE AND WAYS THEY HAVE BEEN DONE. THIS WAS -- I GOT TO PLAY. I GOT TO HAVE FUN WITH IT. THE CHALLENGE TURNED INTO PROBLEM SOLVING AND COLLABORATION AND A WONDERFUL SHOW.

TED SIMONS: WE HAVE VIDEO OF THE SET ITSELF AND SOME OF THE SET PIECES ARE GORGEOUS. THE WORLD-RENOWNED WESTERN ARTIST, FANTASTIC LOOKING STUFF.
FENLON LAMB: THAT WAS PART OF THE FUN. I WENT TO ED MILL'S STUDIO AND PICKED WHAT I WANTED AND PUT IT ON A VIDEO WALL. WHEN YOU STAGE SOMETHING LIKE THIS, IT ALMOST TAKES YOU BY STORM ITSELF. YOU HAVE TO WORKAROUND THE SET, HOW DOES IT WORK?

FENLON LAMB: WE HAVE SET PIECES THAT ARE SOLID. THEY MOVE AND ARE FLEXIBLE. WE HAVE A HUGE VIDEO WALL THAT IS ALSO FLEXIBLE. WE CAN CHANGE THE CLOUDS, MOOD, LOCATION. I JUST GOT TO PLAY. THAT'S ALL THERE IS TO IT.

TED SIMONS: HOW MUCH OF THE NOVEL DID YOU PUT INTO THIS OPERA? ARE THERE WORD FOR WORD PASSAGES? HOW DOES IT WORK?

CRAIG BOHMLER: STEVEN MARC COHEN TOOK THE NOVEL AND SYNTHESIZED IT. THE NOVEL IS NARRATIVE AND YOU ARE TURNING IT INTO A TERSE PLAY TO ADD MUSIC TO IT. THE NOVEL GOES FROM THE BEGINNING, FIRST PAGE OF THE NOVEL IS THE FIRST SCENE OF THE OPERA AND THE END OF THE NOVEL IS THE END OF THE OPERA. WE GO ALL THE WAY THROUGH IT.

TED SIMONS: THE MUSIC ITSELF, IS IT A WESTERN MOTIF, THE SWEEPING, CINETMATIC STUFF; THE OCTAVE HERE AND THERE?

CRAIG BOHMLER: YOU BET AND FRENCH HORNS. WHAT WOULD A WESTERN BE WITHOUT FRENCH HORNS? WE HAVE TO GIVE THE AUDIENCE WHAT THEY KNOW AND THEY KNOW THE WESTERN GENRE NOT FROM THE OPERA STAGE.

TED SIMONS: WAS IT SOMETHING YOU KNEW?

CRAIG BOHMLER: SOMETHING I KNEW WELL. I HAD WRITTEN TEN PIECES FOR THE MUSICAL THEATER. I HAD SPENT MUCH OF MY CAREER AS AN OPERA COACH IN THE OPERA HOUSE. I KNEW HOW SINGERS WORKED, AND WHAT THRILLED AUDIENCES IN THE OPERA HOUSE. SO MY JOB WAS TO PUT THE THINGS I KNEW TOGETHER AND SEE THIS.

TED SIMONS: IT'S A FANTASTIC LOOKING SET. WHEN THEY HEAR THE MUSIC, IT'S A WESTERN. WE ARE TALKING ABOUT THE WEST.

CRAIG BOHMLER: YOU BET.

FENLON LAMB: THERE WAS SOMETHING SO WONDERFUL ABOUT HOW SYNC NOWS IT WAS. IT CONNECTED IMMEDIATELY AND WAS PART OF THE REASON I WAS EXCITED TO DO THE PRODUCTION.

TED SIMONS: WAS ED MILL ONBOARD WHEN YOU STARTED THE MUSIC?

CRAIG BOHMLER: I STARTED IT BEFORE HAND. WHAT ATTRACTED ME TO ED'S WORK, IT'S NOT REALISTIC WHEN YOU LOOK AT IT, YET YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE. THE MUSIC IS THE SAME THING. YOU KNOW YOU ARE IN A WESTERN, BUT IT'S STYLIZED AND CONTEMPORIZED SO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE, TEMPORARY SOUND AND REPRIZES.

TED SIMONS: DID ED KNOW OF THE MUSIC BEFORE PUTTING TOGETHER THE PANELS AND SCENERY?

FENLON LAMB: ED AND I WORKED TOGETHER TO MAKE THE LOOK OF THE OPERA COME TO LIFE. I CONTINUED TO TRANSLATE BETWEEN THE ORAL AND VISUAL SO WHEN WE CAME UP WITH THE FULL PACKAGE, IT WENT TOGETHER WELL.

TED SIMONS: I CALLED IT A HORSE OPERA. IT WAS EXTRAORDINARILY CLEVER. THERE ARE NO HORSES. THIS IS A HUMAN STORY.

FENLON LAMB: IT'S A HUMAN STORY. THERE IS A STAMPEDE. THERE IS A HORSE INTERLUDE.

CRAIG BOHMLER: THERE ARE THREE HORSE INTERLUDES. WE LET THE MUSIC TELL THE STORY. SINCE THE THEATER WORKS ON THE IMAGINATION, WE LET THE MUSIC TELL THE STORY.

TED SIMONS: WITH THAT IN MIND, LET'S TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE OPERAS. EVERYONE KNOWS OR THINK THEY KNOW, HAVE HEARD OF, THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOMETHING CLASSICAL AND SOMETHING THAT'S BRAND NEW AND WESTERN. TALK TO US ABOUT THAT.

FENLON LAMB: I THINK CRAIG HAS DONE A SPECTACULAR JOB OF CREATING AN ATMOSPHERE WE ARE ALL COMFORTABLE IN. THERE IS A CLASSICAL BENCH TO IT. IT'S FAMILIAR IN ITS ORCHESTRATION, IN THE WAY IT'S PUT TOGETHER AND THE WAY THE DRAMATIC ELEMENT OF IT GOES. WE HAVE HAD PERFORMANCES IN TUCSON, AND EVERY SINGLE AUDIENCE MEMBER WAS AT THE EDGE OF THE SEAT WAITING FOR THE NEXT THING TO HAPPEN. I THINK IF YOU CREATE GREAT DRAMA, YOU ARE GOOD TO GO.

TED SIMONS: HOW DO YOU DO THAT IN MUSIC? HOW DO YOU CREATE DRAMA? HOW DO YOU DO IT?

CRAIG BOHMLER: I DO WORK FOR THE TEAM. I CREATED A TREATMENT FOR THE OPERA, LIKE THE OPERA BOOKS YOU READ. I CREATED A TREATMENT. IT IS VERY MUCH LIKE THE OPERA BOOKS YOU READ. IT CREATED CHARACTERS BEGIN TO SPEAK TO THEM. DIALOGUE IS ONCE YOU ARTICULATE THE CHARACTER. YOU WANT THE CHARACTER TO REVEAL IT HIMSELF THROUGH YOUR OWN WORDS.

TED SIMONS: SO BUT WHEN THAT HAPPENS AND YOU READ THOSE OWN WORDS, DOES THE MUSIC GO UP OR?

CRAIG BOHMLER: WHEN THE EMOTIONAL STAKES GET HIGH, ONE OF TWO THINGS HAPPENS, BECAUSE IT HAPPENS IN THE HUMAN IN EXPERIENCE. YOU EITHER GET REALLY LOUD AND PASSIONATE, OR VERY QUIET AND WITHDRAWN. SO I THINK SOMETIMES THE MOST POWERFUL SCENE IS THE GRAVEYARD SCENE. IT'S CRYSTAL AND QUIET IN THE MASSIVE LANDSCAPE. HOW HAS THE AUDIENCE BEEN SO FAR?

TED SIMONS: REMARKABLE. THERE IS SOMETHING WE CAN SHARE IN THIS. HAS THE AUDIENCE BEEN GOOD IN TUCSON?

CRAIG BOHMLER: IT WAS COOL TO SEE GROWN MEN WIPING TEARS FROM THEIR EYES. THEY DIDN'T KNOW WHO WE WERE SO THEY WEREN'T PUTTING ON A SHOW.


FENLON LAMB: THERE WAS A WOMAN OPENLY WEEPING IN FRONT OF ME. THERE IS SOMETHING WE ALL CAN RELATE TO.

TED SIMONS: HAVE PEOPLE SAID, HEY, WE LIKE THIS IDEA. KEEPING AN EYE ON WHAT YOU ARE DOING?

CRAIG BOHMLER: OH, YES. OTHER OPERA COMPANIES HAVE COME THIS WEEKEND, HAVE BEEN INVITED.

TED SIMONS: THAT MAKE AS WORLD PREMIER A LONG RUNNING PRODUCTION, CORRECT?

FENLON LAMB: WE ARE HOPING IT HAS LEGS AND CAN MOVE TO OTHER COMPANIES. IT'S NOT A STORY WE HAVE TO DO IT IN ARIZONA BECAUSE IT'S SET ON THE ARIZONA UTAH BORDER. IT'S A STORY THAT GOES BEYOND, TALKS ABOUT GUNS IN SOCIETY, STRONG FEMALE --

CRAIG BOHMLER: ASSERTIVE FEMALES IN SOCIETY --

FENLON LAMB: AND RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM.

TED SIMONS: BASICALLY, IT'S A ZANE GREY NOVEL FROM THE EARLIEST 20TH CENTURY THAT PLAYS TODAY. CONGRATULATIONS ON THIS. IT SOUNDS EXCITING. WE HOPE IT'S A GRAND SUCCESS. THURSDAY ON "ARIZONA HORIZON," WE'LL TALK ABOUT PRESIDENT TRUMP AND HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH THE MEDIA. AND WE'LL DISCUSS U.S. FOREIGN POLICY, ISIS AND MORE WITH A PRIZE-WINNING JOURNALIST AND SOCIOLOGIST. THAT'S AT 5:30 AND 10:00 ON THE NEXT "ARIZONA HORIZON." THAT'S IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING.

Craig Bohmler: Composer for the opera
Fenlon Lamb: Stage director

Capitol Update

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

An armed forces bugler playing the trumpet in front of the United States Capitol building.
airs May 26

National Memorial Day Concert 2024

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: